How To: What to Expect

Ok, you’ve done it. You were in, you climbed out, you’re toweling off. Hopefully you’re laughing with your friend/sweetie. Ideally, you can let your body warm itself. If you have to, grab your spouse or dog or willing neighbor, and have them hug you back to warmness. You will feel differently on different days. Some days, your skin may feel heated as soon as you’re out. These are good days. Other days, it may be hard to shake the chill. On those days, I pile back into bed until I’m warm, or fill the tub with a couple of inches of hot water to warm my feet while I dry. It helps a lot. 

No matter what else changes, this much will be true. You will have more energy than before you went in. You will feel more relaxed. Your mood will get a boost that will last you at least all day. The gal who is famous for doing the cold swimming in Britain only needs to do this once a week to keep her depression at bay. I found I needed it every day. Figure out your own formula, but if your mood starts to slip, or you have a really bad day, hit the shower. It helps.  How much? How soon?

Week 1: The good – Expect some level of initial giddiness. Your mood will definitely elevate. You will feel more interest in things you’ve let go of. You’ll feel hopeful. If you suffer from any viral or autoimmune issues, expect them to improve immediately, possibly drastically. The bad – You may feel like you get a cold in the first week sometime. Lots of us do. Ride it out. I didn’t bother to try to shower while already miserable. When you are improving again, go back to the shower

Week 2 and 3: The good – Sometime in these weeks, a lot of us feel some level of euphoria. That was new to me, and I think it was pretty cool. The colors are brighter, the laughter is happier. Your bad days will be decreasing. Your sleep begins to improve. My bet is, any suicidal ideation you have has slipped away. The bad – You’ll probably start to detox. On the whole that’s good, but it feels kinda crappy anyway. It’s having a very, very low level cold, that you almost don’t know is there, but you still feel a bit off for a few days. On the plus side, you’re getting rid of bad stuff in your body.  There is actually no scientific proof that says “detoxing” is real. But hey, the internet describes it as exactly what it felt like to me – so take it or leave my interpretation of what it means, but you’ll probably feel it regardless.

Week 4 and 5: The good – Your mood evens out. The bad days are doable, and the good days are better than ever. You’ll feel better than your best non-depression days. You won’t feel like killing yourself at all, and you will be filled with hope, even on the days when life isn’t going well. Welcome to your new normal. And it’s a GOOD normal. The bad – The euphoria ends. That totally sucks, but it is to be expected. If a suicidal friend calls, you may feel disconnected from their struggles in a way you never have been before, because suddenly you don’t “get it”. Suddenly, you want to tell them that, no, life isn’t that bad, and no, suicide isn’t the only answer. 

Month 2 to 3: Even though you may still tell yourself that you hate cold, you find yourself thinking about icy lakes, and outdoor swimming, and wondering what else you could do that would be cool (or cold!) You may not like those three minutes a day, but you know what you’ve lost, and you know what you’ve gained. And what you’ve gained is amazing, and wonderful, and you are very, very clear of what the difference is. You know you’ve never had this much improvement before, no matter what pill they put you on, and you may be considering going off any medication you’re still on for depression. Talk to your psychiatrist about it, but go armed with articles that prove you’re not a nut. Don’t expect her to be thrilled for you, and embrace the no-med idea with open arms. Go with high hopes, but do listen to her, even if she disagrees with your wishes. If she DOES agree to let you titrate off of your meds, do it SLOWLY.

Welcome to your new life. You do not have symptoms of depression. You still have a lifetime of habits built around reactions you’re used to having, and bad days will still happen, but now that you’re not fighting your brain chemistry, you can work on those and have success in changing them. You experience some happy almost every day, and lot of happy most days. Your lows are never as low, and your highs are consistently higher. People are reacting to you differently. You find yourself saying you had a good day, instead of repeating that every day is a bad day. You have noticed that you’re making future plans for things you want to do, and you may astound yourself and your loved ones, by making plans to go wild swimming – because, why not? You look at the path behind you, and feel sad that no one told you about this 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago. All of those years you could have been this happy!

Do I know this will happen for you just like I say? No, no one knows anything with that much certainty. But I know that from all of the accounts of other people like us on the internet, who have tried this road, this is what is likely to happen for you. Maybe slower, maybe faster, probably with your own variations. I knew that things were changing for me immediately. I didn’t have to wait 8 weeks on a med trial to hope it would help in some undefined way. I got in the shower. I got out of the shower. It helped. A lot, eventually, but it helped in ways that were observable and obvious on the first day. Did anyone ever give you this kind of an expectations list for your new anti-depressant? No. Did anyone ever tell you that you could do something this insignificant, and reap so much benefit?